Combined Chiefs of Staff Minutes
1. Review of Strategic Situation in the Light of the Italian Collapse
The Prime Minister said that he had referred the report which the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington had submitted to him on this subject1 to the British Chiefs of Staff in London. They had replied that they took no exception to any of the items contained in the report. However, the Admiralty did indicate that there would be some difficulty in moving British ships from the Mediterranean because of the necessity of refitting them, providing them with additional anti-aircraft, etc. The Prime Minister remarked that this would not affect the principle involved and that the difficulties would be overcome.
2. Utilization of Balkan Forces
The Prime Minister read a telegram2 that he had received from General Smuts which suggested the inclusion of a Greek formation [Page 1230] in the march to Rome and that also some consideration should be given to utilizing Yugoslav formations if such were available. General Smuts believed that this would have a beneficial effect on the morale of the people of Greece and Yugoslavia.
The Prime Minister suggested to the Chiefs of Staff that they give this matter consideration with the view to suggesting action along these lines to General Eisenhower.
3. Bombing of Ploeşti
The Prime Minister said that he had received the Chiefs of Staff memorandum regarding a suggestion to be made to the Russian Government that they undertake a follow–up attack against the Ploeşti oil refineries.3 He said that he was entirely agreeable to the proposal; he suggested, however, that when the message was sent from the President and Prime Minister it should be prefaced by a statement along the following lines:
“The Combined Chiefs of Staff inform us that it would be highly desirable, etc.”
In this way the military aspect of the operation would be emphasized.
Admiral Leahy said that he had some doubt of the advisability of pressing the Russian Government to undertake this operation. The United States Air Forces had made an attack which, though highly successful, had resulted in quite serious losses. He thought that the Russians might take the attitude that we had failed to respond to many of their requests, particularly for a “Second Front,” and that now we were asking them to finish an operation that we had started. Admiral Leahy said that he accepted the proposition of requesting the Russians to undertake the operation but thought the view expressed above should be considered.
Sir John Dill indicated that the question of submitting this proposal to the Russian Government had not been formally presented to the British Chiefs of Staff in London. This was so because of the imminence of the Prime Minister’s departure from Washington and the desire to place the proposition before the President and Prime Minister while they were still together.
The Prime Minister said that he would discuss the matter with the President over the weekend and that the point of view brought forth by Admiral Leahy would be brought to the President’s attention.
4. Discussion of the Present Situation in Italy
The Prime Minister said he understood that the Chiefs of Staff were considering how to utilize the Italian shipping that had come [Page 1231] into our hands. He said that he had had a report on two large Italian vessels that were used in the repatriation of Italian prisoners of war and which were reported to be on their way to Taranto on 23 August. He read a list of the reported location of Italian vessels and emphasized that every effort should be made to utilize them in building up United Nations forces in Italy.
In response to a question from the Prime Minister, General Marshall replied that he expected the battle in the Naples area was going to be very difficult for the next few days. However, he had great confidence in the effectiveness of Allied air support. Intelligence reports on the German movements indicate that they may have a larger number of troops in the Naples area by tomorrow but their strength will not greatly exceed ours. Meanwhile, we are getting heavy and medium tanks ashore and should be able to hold a bridgehead until we can build up a preponderance of strength. Every spot in the Naples region is under air attack which will make it extremely difficult for the Germans to concentrate their forces and operate effectively.
General Arnold said that some fighter cover was being given with P–38’s fitted with belly tanks. However, up to the present time there had not been a great necessity for fighter cover because of the lack of German resistance in the air. Our troops are now surrounding Montecorvino Air Field and as soon as that comes into our possession it will greatly facilitate our air operations.
Admiral King also noted that the “Unicorn” and three or four CVE’s were giving carrier-based support from positions off the coast.
The Prime Minister asked if all of the six divisions assigned to the Avalanche Operation were ashore.
General Marshall replied that at the present time from four to four and one-half divisions had landed. All of the six divisions will probably not have landed until some time on Monday.
Admiral King then read a telegram which he had received regarding the disposition of the Italian ships.
General Marshall said that the intelligence reports indicated that the German divisions in the Naples area had been hurriedly brought to full strength of about 10,000 men. The division in the Salerno area was about one-half strength, or 5,000 men. One of the Panzer divisions reported upon lacked 60 tanks. He pointed out that these hurried replacements would certainly decrease German efficiency and this, added to our air efforts to isolate the Naples area, gives the situation a favorable aspect.
Commenting on the air operations, General Arnold said that one report indicated that 170 vehicles had been destroyed on the road south of Naples.[Page 1232]
The Prime Minister asked if the Germans now opposing General Montgomery in the south could get to the Naples area in less than three or four days.
General Marshall replied that he thought they could unless they were seriously delayed on the roads. Reports indicate heavy concentration on all roads leading to the north from the toe of Italy.
In reply to a question from the Prime Minister, General Arnold said we have now nearly 3,000 operating aircraft engaged over Italy. This is more than the whole German Air Force on all fronts.
The Prime Minister then read a telegram which he had received from General Alexander in which it was indicated that the greatest deterrent to a rapid build-up was the lack of landing craft. The message said that priority was given to Avalanche at the expense of the toe of Italy and the Taranto area. The Prime Minister found it difficult to understand the need for landing craft in view of the fact that we had ports in both of the latter areas.
General Marshall suggested that possibly they had hoped to make landings at points north of the ports in our possession and thus create opportunities for converging attacks.
The Prime Minister said we should do anything we possibly can to expedite the build-up in Italy and, if necessary, repay any losses incurred by Bolero out of the windfall that has come to us in the form of additional shipping. He said General Alexander has indicated that the Indian Eighth Division, which is one-half British, will not be in Italy until the 25th of September. He thought this delay was unacceptable. In addition, the New Zealand Division, which was practically the size of a corps, and the Fifty-first Division, one of England’s best, were ready for the operation if they could be landed in Italy. He suggested that it would not be necessary to leave a very large force in Sicily.
General Marshall thought that one division would be sufficient.
The Prime Minister again asked whether the Combined Chiefs of Staff could see whether they could in any way accelerate the build-up. He was very anxious, he said, because the battle was a critical one. The Germans might decide to go back quickly or they might not. It was very important to get such divisions as the New Zealanders and the 51st Highland Division there as quickly as possible.
Admiral Leahy said that he was sure that everyone was in complete agreement that the build-up of the force for Avalanche should be expedited as much as could possibly be done, using every possible means.
The Prime Minister said that sometimes a helping hand stretched out from above could make just all the difference.[Page 1233]
Mr. Douglas then referred to the question of troopships in the Mediterranean. He understood that 10 personnel ships which were to have been taken out were being kept on by the British in the Mediterranean and that this could be done without interfering with the Bolero build-up. He did not know whether the extra cargo ships needed with these personnel ships had yet been found. There had been reduced sinkings in August and there had been a saving of 15 ship sailings on those decided upon at Quadrant . In consequence he considered that if no more than 25 to 35 cargo ships would be required it could probably be managed.
General Marshall mentioned a signal4 that he had sent privately to General Eisenhower from the War Department suggesting that perhaps ships from two convoys then unloading in or about to arrive in the Mediterranean might possibly be made available should they be required. To this General Whiteley, in the absence of General Eisenhower, had replied that the bottleneck in the Mediterranean was in port capacity and not in troop lift. As a result the Combined Chiefs of Staff had signalled to General Eisenhower asking whether any help could be given as regards loading gear and port facilities but as far as he knew no reply had been received to this offer. As regards ships, one immediate possibility might be to use Italian vessels that come into our hands, with their existing crews. He expressed thorough agreement with what Admiral Leahy had said regarding the importance of doing everything possible to assist the Avalanche build-up.
The Prime Minister said that sometimes things could be done which did not occur to those on the spot.
General Marshall was of the opinion that there were plenty of troops available.
The Prime Minister said that he had been horrified to see the figure of a build-up of only 12 divisions by 1st December. He then referred to the possibilities of impeding the enemy by air attack from coming into the Naples battle area.
Regarding this, General Arnold said that it ought to be a field day for the combined air force if the Germans used the roads.
General Marshall ended this part of the discussion on an optimistic note and said that he thought the German situation must be a very difficult one.
General Marshall then gave information regarding the favourable situation that was developing on the Russian Front. The Russians, he said, were penetrating deep into the Ukraine country and were nearly up to the Pripet Marshes. The rains were beginning. The Germans were still holding tenaciously in certain sectors but the Russian forward [Page 1234] movement had been rapid in the center and the south, particularly during the last 24 hours. It looked as though Maripol was being evacuated now and it appeared that the Germans were withdrawing to the Dnieper Line. He did not think that this was a much shorter line. Soon the River would freeze over and be no obstacle. He contrasted this situation on the Russian Front with that which previous summer battles in Russia might have led us to expect.
5. AMGOT Government
The Prime Minister asked General Marshall how he felt the AMGOT Government was progressing. He noted that it was the subject of attack in many of our newspapers and that the Russians had recently put forth some propaganda that was unfavorable to AMGOT.5 He said that the choice of the name AMGOT was unfortunate but that he intended vigorously to defend it on the floor of Parliament about ten days hence.
General Marshall informed the Prime Minister that recently some detailed reports6 had been received as to the AMGOT operations and assured the Prime Minister that he would make them available to him that afternoon.
6. Comment on Hitler’s 10 September Speech
The Prime Minister then referred to Hitler’s recent speech7 and said that it had seemed to him very subdued.
General Marshall said that Hitler’s speech showed him to be in desperate plight. It also, taking his own words, showed that he could do nothing about what went on overhead.
The Prime Minister referred to Hitler’s remarks suggesting that he had something up his sleeve.
General Arnold thought that Hitler must have been thinking of rockets and bombs, of which we had heard already.
General Arnold then referred to two items of information which he had picked up on his recent visit to England. One was that an order from General Goering had been intercepted ordering German fighter pilots to attack main bodies and not stragglers. Pilots who failed to do this were to be sent to fight with the ground forces on the Russian Front. The other concerned submarine crews. Indications had been received that there was a general lowering of morale and that the Germans [Page 1235] were having great difficulty in building up the morale of their submarine crews.
7. Situation in Pacific
General Marshall then referred to the South Pacific and particularly to the recent successful landing by air in the Markham Valley. As a result of this operation the garrison of 8 to 10,000 Japanese had been virtually isolated. No definite information had been received of any attempt at evacuation. Our troops were pounding Salamaua and were close to Lae. Valuable airfields should soon be in our possession from which the airfields at Cape Gloucester could be made untenable. This in turn would change the whole sea situation. With our preponderance in the air the Japanese air situation in New Britain should soon be desperate.
There were signs of evacuation from the Solomons. Soon Bougainville would be under attack and Rabaul isolated.
General Marshall then referred to the force which was being got together for jungle fighting, under Lord Louis Mountbatten, in Southeast Asia Command. Volunteers had been called for and the full complement of 3,000 made up, 2,000 from jungle trained troops in the Caribbean, 1,000 from the United States. These were now on their way to their jumping off places. He had sent a personal message8 to General MacArthur regarding 250 battle experienced men whom he was providing from the fighting area.
8. Use of Plough Force
General Marshall then referred to Plough force, in view of the Prime Minister’s particular interest in it. He said that General Eisenhower and General Devers had been asked for their suggestions as to its future employment. Burma and the Southwest Pacific had not been asked but he understood that there was a request for this force to be made available for employment in the Southeast Asia Command. General Eisenhower had suggested its use in the Apennines and a plan regarding this would be brought up before the British Chiefs of Staff and later would come to the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
The Prime Minister had thought this force might be usefully employed in the Balkans to help out the patriot forces—alternatively, in the Apennines, as suggested by General Eisenhower.
General Marshall said that he felt that perhaps General Eisenhower’s proposition seemed the best one. The force was trained to snow conditions; it had unfortunately seen no fighting at Kiska which had been, however, a very good battle exercise and excellent training. The [Page 1236] force was now back in the United States and he thought that its early move to the Mediterranean would raise its morale higher even still.
The Prime Minister agreed and said that he certainly would not like to see this excellent and specially trained force used in the steaming jungle.
In conclusion, The Prime Minister referred once more to the vital importance of doing all that was possible to assist the build-up in Italy. Even the acceleration of one division by a fortnight might make a big difference.
General Marshall assured him that everything possible would be done.
- Post, p. 1290.↩
- Not found in United States files.↩
- Post, p. 1256.↩
- Cf. Eisenhower Papers, p. 1377, fn. 2.↩
- See post, p. 1264.↩
- Not identified. Cf. Msenhoiver Papers, pp. 1157, 1266, 1367.↩
- For an English translation of the speech given by Hitler at Berlin on September 10, 1943, see Hitler’s Words, edited by Gordon W Prange (Washington: American Council on Public Affairs, 1944), pp. 381–386.↩
- Not printed.↩